August resides well in the Diablo Valley when big spacious, blue skies accompanied by blazing hot and dry days are part of your definition of the eighth month of our year. Conditions such as these bode very well for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons and stone fruits, thriving in loamy soil, occasionally drenched with some conserved, allotted water, creating an environment for them to be comfortably staking out real estate on the steamy side of the garden that they call home soaking up every sun bloated ray they can absorb creating amazingly big, fat, juicy fruits and vegetables for us to drunkenly consume at will, creating a conceptual whole, sweet life we live, nutritionally anyway.
As peaking produce overflows our yards and farmer’s market tables, canning and jamming take center stage in the kitchens of our summer life, acutely present in every nose for miles around your house. Plucking just picked cucumbers matched with astoundingly fragrant fresh dill heads and garlic, from the vine or market table, to be transformed in a matter of a few hours with the help of salt, vinegar and mystical alchemy to glistening jade jars of love. Tubs of peaches, nectarines and strawberries, washed and cut up, boiled in a sugar melted narcotic haze combined with whatever else heat flustered minds can imagine to mix in, become addicting, visions of fingers running along the sides and bottoms of almost empty, cooled jam pots, already beginning to gel as you gaze upon gem like colors, bedazzling eyes and minds with the promise of the perfect piece of toast come winter.
As my Satsuma plum tree encourages vast quantities of cascading fruit onto dry ground below I am fraught with sweet memories of my own Mom’s Satsuma plum which is why I have one growing in my yard today. Drupe in familial origin having a large stone pit encasing inner seed, plums are indeed a fruit engineered to provoke tender memories stemming from an age of earlier innocence in your life. Grandma’s always possessed a gnarly old tree to climb midsummer retrieving juicy fruits to stain anything on your body quenching a thirst only satisfied by that plum at that time. Plums date back centuries to milder climates of Asia, Eastern Europe and the Americas but Roman historian and scientist, Pliny the Elder, maintained plums originated in Armenia and were the first cultivated fruit known. Many cultures invest in the power of spring plum blossoms, all knowing at least half of those sweetly fragrant, showy blooms represent a plum to eat, juice dripping down chin. Over years many crosses of plums have appeared in markets probably none more identifiable than the San Rosa, another Luther Burbank discovery, tempting with creamy yellowish pink flesh, sugar sweet with a tart skin. Pretty much the epitome of what comes to mind for a plum when ears share the word with brains. Satsuma plums have deep, dark richly mahogany red interiors, with a mysteriously herbal, tart - honeyed flesh perfect for retrieving childhood images. Plum wines play a major part in several cultures for simple enjoyment as well as medicinal purposes along with beautiful ceremonial displays.
Fortunately for us plums are still immensely popular with farmers continuing to grow and sell heirloom varieties along with any kind of cross imaginable, almost. Apriums are a 30-70 mix of an apricot and a plum as pluots are a 70 – 30 mix of plum and apricot. Softly orange inside and out with a scant fuzz, or deeply magenta, both perform due diligence to represent the plum family owning tastes that are sublime. Available only from your yard or farmers’ markets, they are summer stone fruit at its best. Before frankenfruit visions scare you off, these inter bred fruits are crossed, not genetically modified, as safe as a Blenheim to devour. Eaten slowly out of hand, eyes closed, juice popping as your teeth sink into tart skin, can be the best way to explore this fruit.
Fresh plum salsa with chopped plums, scallions, cilantro, jalapeño and garlic tossed with lime juice and a shot of fruity olive oil is incredible accompanying freshly grilled fish with a light shower of sea salt. Slice plums and toss with arugula, pine nuts, veiny blue and thick balsamic. Plums set the stage for an amazingly simple crisp, slurped hot with vanilla ice cream slowly melting on top. Plums pureed and simmered with fresh ginger, garlic, honey, rice vinegar and soy sauce create a dip worthy of the most royal dumpling or skewer. Plum jam assures summer in the winter and looks so good in their jeweled jars they can be used for home décor year round. Beyond simple to prepare, all efforts pay supremely for months.
8 cups chopped Satsuma plums
3 tablespoons fruit pectin
2 cups turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Peel and juice of 1 big, juicy lemon
Heat plums in a deep, heavy pan that won’t scorch. Mix ½ cup sugar with the pectin and stir into plums. Bring to a complete rolling boil that you can’t stir down and add the rest of the sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. Bring back to a rolling boil that you can’t stir down. When you reach that point, set your timer for 2 minutes and boil for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and place into sterilized half pint jars. Close lids tightly. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 half pints.